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Archive for the ‘Universal (-International)’ Category

John Gavin
(April 8, 1931 – February 9, 2018)

John Gavin, who played Jack Loomis in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Julius Caesar in Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) has passed away at 86. He also appeared in the sublimely wonderful Quantez (1957, above),  a sadly under-appreciated 50s Western from Universal-International, starring Fred McMurray and Dorothy Malone (who just passed away herself) and directed by Harry Keller.

Gavin was almost cast as James Bond for Diamonds Are Forever (1971). He served as ambassador to Mexico during the Reagan administration. He was married to Constance Towers.

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960

Back in 2014, gathering everybody’s favorite DVD and Blu-Ray picks for the year turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s since become an annual thing.

Thanks to everybody who sent in their picks for 2016. This was a great year for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-Ray (and 2017 is shaping up to be just as good, or maybe better). Here’s the Top 10, according to your votes.

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10. Desperado (1954, Warner Archive, DVD)
It was a tie between this Wayne Morris picture and his earlier Desert Pursuit (1952). They’re both solid, offbeat little Westerns — and it’s real treat to have them available in such stellar condition.

9. Yellow Sky (1948, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Thanks to William Wellman, we didn’t have to wait till the 50s for Hollywood to start making 50s Westerns. The town of Yellow Sky is populated by only an old prospector and his daughter — until some slimy outlaws come riding up.

8. Western Union (1941, Kino Lorber, Blu-Ray)
Randolph Scott in Fritz Lang’s second Technicolor movie. There’s so much cool stuff in this movie, and it looks wonderful.

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7. Black Horse Canyon (1954, Universal Vault, DVD)
For years, Joel McCrea’s Universal Westerns were missing on DVD. It’s great to have them so easy to track down. This is a good one.

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6. Comanche Station (1960, Explosive Media, Blu-Ray)
The last of the Scott-Boetticher Westerns turns out to be the first to make its way to Blu-Ray, and as I see it, the others can’t get here soon enough. This thing’s incredible.

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5. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, Warner Archive, Blu-Ray)
John Ford’s She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1948, above) is one of the most beautiful color movies ever shot. The proof is pressed oh-so-magnificently into this Blu-Ray. It also features one of John Wayne’s finest performances.

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4. Roughshod (1949, Warner Archive, DVD)
This gets my vote as the best of the “noir Westerns.” I was real happy to see the response this picture got. It’s a shame it’s not better known.

3. Cariboo Trail (1950, Kino Lorber, DVD/Blu-Ray)
The transfer here is a minor miracle, demonstrating how good CineColor can look. They wisely didn’t go overboard with the cleanup, so it still retains its true film look. And, of course, this is a solid picture from Edwin Marin and Randolph Scott.

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2. Johnny Guitar (1954, Olive Films Signature Edition, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Olive’s new Signature edition is a marked improvement over their old release, which was terrific. The restored 1.66 framing makes a big difference, and the supplemental stuff is excellent.

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1. One-Eyed Jacks (1961, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-Ray)
Opinions of Marlon Brando’s Western are all over the place, so I was really surprised to see it land in the top spot. However, judging it simply in terms of its superb presentation, I don’t see how anything could beat it. It’s stunning, a big fat reward to all of us who’ve suffered through those awful tapes and discs over the years. I’m proud and honored to have been involved with Criterion’s work here. (Note: Having worked on the One-Eyed Jacks extras, I did not feel comfortable taking part in the vote this time around.)

In closing, the discs on this list highlight the impact the video presentation can have on our appreciation of these old movies. Many of these have been available, in some form, for years. One more thing: your reasons for not buying a Blu-Ray player are rapidly running out.

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Here’s a great little speech from No Name On The Bullet (1959), maybe Audie Murphy’s best picture. He plays a gun-for-hire who rides into town and creates a wave of paranoia — as everybody’s convinced he’s here to kill them.

John Gant (Audie Murphy): “Take two men. Say they have robbed and lied, and have never paid. The man whom one of them has robbed comes to me and says, ‘Kill that man who’s robbed me.’ And I kill him. The other man becomes ill and would die, except for a physician who returns him to health to rob and lie again. Who’s the villain in this piece? Me or the physician?”

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Directed by James Neilson
Starring James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Dianne Foster, Elaine Stewart, Brandon de Wilde, Jay C. Flippen, Robert J. Wilke, Hugh Beaumont

This is one some of us have really been waiting for — Night Passage (1957) is finally coming to Blu-Ray, where it most certainly belongs. Elephant Films out of France have announced its hi-def debut for March 2017.

Shot in Technirama, a high-fidelity combination of VistaVision and anamorphic widescreen, this picture is as sharp as the movies ever got. And with loads of incredible location work in Durango, Colorado, it’s stunning.

The movie itself, while it’s no masterpiece, has been unjustly maligned. You’ll find the story behind all that in a post from a few year ago. It’s still one of my favorite pieces, thanks in large part to the terrific discussion that cropped up in the comments.

Thanks to Allen Smithee for the news.

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There’s no doubt that, back in 1962, kids at the Lawton Theatre in Lawton, Oklahoma, had a very good time. I can’t imagine a better night at the movies than a twin bill of William’s Castle’s immortal House On Haunted Hill and Universal’s vampire Western Curse Of The Undead (both 1959).

Here’s hoping you all have a happy, and safe, Halloween.

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Madman Entertainment out of Australia has announced a terrific DVD set of seven Audie Murphy pictures that cover his time at Universal, from his first film for the studio, The Kid From Texas (1950), to the last, Gunpoint (1966).

The Madman website lists the aspect ratio as 4:3, which is fine for the 1950 titles. Let’s hope the later stuff turns out to be anamorphic.

Sierra (1950)
Directed by R.G. Springsteen
Starring Wanda Hendrix, Audie Murphy, Burl Ives

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The Kid From Texas (1950)
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Starring Audie Murphy, Gale Storm, Albert Dekker

Kansas Raiders (1950)
Directed by Ray Enright
Starring Audie Murphy, Brian Donlevy, Marguerite Chapman, Scott Brady

The Wild And The Innocent (1959)
Directed by Jack Sher
Starring Audie Murphy, Joanne Dru, Gilbert Roland, Jim Backus

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Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea and Joan O’Brien on the Six Black Horses set.

Six Black Horses (1962)
Directed by Harry Keller
Written by Burt Kennedy
Starring Audie Murphy, Dan Duryea, Joan O’Brien

Showdown (1963)
Directed by R.G. Springsteen
Starring Audie Murphy, Kathless Crowley, Charles Drake, Harold J. Stone, Skip Homeier

Gunpoint (1966)
Directed by Earl Bellamy
Starring Audie Murphy, Joan Staley, Warren Stevens

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Canyon Passage DJ

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Walter Wanger
Screenplay by Ernest Pascal
Adapted from the Saturday Evening Post story by Ernest Haycox
Director Of Photography: Edward Cronjager
Film Editor: Milton Carruth

Cast: Dana Andrews (Logan Stuart), Brian Donlevy (George Camrose), Susan Hayward (Lucy Overmire), Patricia Roc (Caroline Marsh), Ward Bond (Honey Bragg), Hoagy Carmichael (Hi Linnet), Fay Holden (Mrs. Overmire), Stanley Ridges (Jonas Overmire), Lloyd Bridges (Johnny Steele), Andy Devine (Ben Dance), the Devine Kids, Frank Ferguson, Ray Teal

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There seems to be a general consensus around here that Canyon Passage (1946) is a damn good Western, typically fine work from Jacques Tourneur, and a picture that has been unjustly overlooked over the years. We also tend to agree that the DVD from Universal is a terrific example of how to present three-strip Technicolor on our hi-def TVs. So much so, that a few folks have commented that they couldn’t imagine how much difference a Blu-ray upgrade would make.

Well, the new Blu-ray from Panamint offers up a stunning example of just what Blu-ray can do — that beautiful transfer of Edward Cronjager’s Technicolor photography is, well, even more beautiful than it was before. Sharper, crisper, more detailed — and with a real sense of depth. After viewing this, the old DVD seems way too bright by comparison. The extras — from newsreel footage of the premiere to a series of radio shows to a nice booklet on the film — really make this a premium package.

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Patricia Roc and Jacques Tourneur

Then there’s the movie itself. Director Jacques Tourneur’s first Western, and his first time working in Technicolor, Canyon Passage is a big, beautiful, complex tale of the Oregon territory in 1856. Dana Andrews runs a freight business and winds up in a love triangle with Susan Hayward and Brian Donlevy — while dealing with both Indians and a positively evil Ward Bond.

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Ward Bond and Dana Andrews duke it out

It’d be easy for Canyon Passage to get bogged down in melodrama, but Tourneur’s too smart for that. He treats us to incredible vistas of the Oregon locations (Crater Lake is one of them), gets top-notch performances from the entire cast and offers up a great fistfight between Andrews and Bond. Bond deserves special mention: he’s a real scumbag in this one, a sharp contrast to roles that came later like Wagon Master (1950) and The Searchers (1956).

Jacques Tourneur came to this film with some classic horror movies under his belt — Cat People (1942) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943), and he’d follow it with one of the finest noirs, Out Of The Past (1947). Tourneur’s body of work is certainly worth seeking out. Case in point: his other Westerns include Stars In My Crown (1950) and Wichita (1955).

It’s easy to recommend Canyon Passage — both the film and Panamint’s high-definition, Region B presentation of it. It takes a good thing and makes it better.

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